London, May 18 (IANS) The Zika virus is expected to spread to Europe by this summer, but the risk will be “low to moderate”, the World Health Organisation has said.
WHO said there was a “high” chance the virus will appear in areas where a type of mosquito called the Aedes aegypti lives.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said the mosquito type has been recently reported in Madeira, the Netherlands and the north-eastern Black Sea coast (southern Russia and Georgia), Sky News reported on Wednesday.
There is a “moderate” chance the virus will appear in the 18 European countries where another type of mosquito — the Aedes albopictus — is endemic.
Those countries are: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and Vatican city.
WHO said there was a “low, very low or no” likelihood that Zika will occur in 36 other European countries, including Britain.
When combined with the abilities of those countries’ health services to cope with an outbreak, WHO said the risk to their populations was “low to moderate during late spring and summer”.
It said 41 out of 53 European countries have “good or very good” capacity for coping with an outbreak.
Experts said Zika, which has spread widely throughout South and Central America, is responsible for a type of birth defect called microcephaly, which results in newborns having small heads.
It has also been strongly linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, which attacks the nervous system and can lead to paralysis.
Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant have been advised to avoid parts of South and Central America because of the virus.
People travelling to all areas at risk of infection are being told to pay attention to health advice.
There have already been cases of Zika reported in Europe in people who have returned from travelling in the Americas, including people whose babies have suffered birth defects.
Experts have previously warned that Zika infected mosquitos could travel to Europe on planes.
WHO has called on European countries which could suffer outbreaks to follow a series of recommendations to reduce the likelihood.